Can you build muscle on Keto?
The keto diet is typically regarded as a weight loss diet… but it doesn’t have to be.
There is a myth floating around that the ketogenic diet makes it hard—if not impossible – to gain muscle.
We are here today to dis-spell that myth once and for all. So, if this question has been haunting you, or you have been thinking of trying keto but don’t want to miss out on any muscle gains… keep reading!
First of all,
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, but high-fat diet that’s similar to the Atkins and other low-carb diets. A keto diet involves significantly reducing, if not completely stopping carbohydrate consumption and replacing it with fat. The reduction of carbs puts the body into the metabolic state called ketosis. In ketosis, the body becomes very efficient in turning fat into energy. At the same time, it turns fat into ketones in the liver, which supply energy for the brain.
With that being said… should bodybuilders start adopting the keto diet?
Before we answer that… let’s briefly cover the basics on how muscle is built.
Muscle Protein Synthesis
When you go to the gym and exercise your muscles, you’re basically breaking them down and creating little tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the naturally occurring process in which protein is produced to repair these tiny tears caused by exercise.
This process is essential to experiencing hypertrophy – which refers to the increase in muscular size achieved through exercise.
Certain biochemical pathways within our bodies govern protein synthesis. These anabolic (growth-stimulating) pathways need to be activated by certain nutrients. These nutrients can be derived from food, exercise, or certain muscle-building, nitric oxide boosting supplements such as OptiNOs (which was designed specifically for this purpose).
mTOR for Muscle Building
mTOR is a nutrient sensor within these pathways significantly involved in the process of hypertrophy and MPS (muscle protein synthesis). The mTOR receptor can tell whether the body is in a “full” or “fasting” state.
It can also sense when we overload a muscle by lifting heavy weights. This is where hypertrophy comes into play. It is this overload on our muscles that activates or “triggers” the mTOR receptors in our body—stimulating MPS and preventing protein breakdown. The more you are able to activate your mTOR gene, the more you will be able to increase muscle growth and strength.
The Building Blocks of Protein
Amino acids are essential for building muscle and are often referred to as “the building blocks of protein”. All proteins (in the body and in food) are made up of amino acids. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to build muscle.
BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)
BCAAs (or branched-chain amino acids) are also particularly important for building muscle. These amino acids are known as ‘essential’ because they are not produced in our body. That is why it is important to consume them through diet or supplement.
Phew! We know that was a lot of information, but building muscle is no simple process!
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s answer the real question here—can you build muscle on the keto diet?
Do you need carbs to build muscle?
The idea that consuming carbohydrates with protein within the “post-workout” window to maximize muscle growth most likely stems from the fact that insulin and IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor 1) both rise in response to carbohydrate intake.
The thought here is that carbohydrates stimulate insulin, which promotes a greater amount of protein synthesis, than simply consuming protein by itself.
However, studies have concluded there is no difference in muscle protein synthesis, whether you consume protein alone or protein in combination with carbs.
In a nutshell,
While this answer may be enough to satisfy the argument against building muscle on keto for most, we understand that this is not the only proposed argument.
Glycogen, the substance deposited in bodily tissues as a store of carbohydrates, serves as a form of energy in humans, animals, fungi, and bacteria. If glycogen stores are low during exercise, this could compromise energy availability and limit or hinder performance. Not something any athlete desires. However, this is most likely a concern for athletes primarily involved in endurance-driven activities where glycogen depletion becomes an issue. For bodybuilders or those involved in heavy lifting will most likely not experience any effects from low glycogen levels.
Furthermore, the data that glycogen levels are reduced on a ketogenic diet (after keto-adaptation has occurred) isn’t sufficient.
What is “keto-adaptation?”
Thus far we have learned the basics of muscle-building, refuted the myth of necessary-carbs and concluded that you can, in fact, increase muscle mass following a strength training regimen while on the keto diet.
However, this does not happen overnight. Your body must adapt from using glucose (carbs) as fuel to using fat as fuel instead. This process is called “keto-adaptation” and it can take anywhere from one to four weeks.
During this period you may not be able to exercise with the same intensity as you previously were. This is because your body is switching from breaking down glucose for energy to breaking down fat into ketones.
When you restrict carbs from your diet, your body will search for a different source of energy. This is when ketones will be introduced.
What are ketones exactly?
Ketones are compounds made in your liver. You produce ketones when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (glucose) into energy. When the body does not have enough glucose for energy, it burns stored fats instead; this metabolic process is called "ketosis".
The process our body uses to create glucose out of non-carbohydrate sources is gluconeogenesis; or GNG for short.
Like anything in life, you have to “train” in order to become better. The longer you stay on the keto diet, the more efficient your metabolism becomes at burning ketones for energy. Once you become fully adapted to the keto diet, your body will prevent itself from breaking down muscle as you’re burning through fat. (5)
Now that you are more familiar with the keto diet, here is a “beginner keto meal plan” to get you started on the newly trending diet.
Beginner Keto Meal Plan:
Keto Tuna Mayo Avocado Boats
1/2 each Avocado
1 ounce Canned Tuna
1 small Scallions
1/2 tablespoon(s) Mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon(s) Lime Juice, Fresh
1/2 tablespoon(s) Cilantro, Chopped
1 pinch(es) Salt, Sea Salt
1 pinch(es) Black Pepper
7 g of protein
16 g of fat
7 g of carbs
- Slice the avocado in half lengthways, and remove the stone from the center.
- Finely slice the scallion and add to a mixing bowl along with the tuna, mayonnaise, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine.
- To serve, divide the tuna mayo evenly between the two avocado halves.
* 1 ounce Brazil Nuts, Unsalted
4.2 g of protein
19.8 g of fat
3.6 g of carbs
Keto Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken
2 clove Garlic Raw
1/2 cup Green Onions
* 2 tablespoon Avocado Oil
2 teaspoon Rice Cooking Wine
* 5 ounce Chicken Breast
1 Jalapeno Peppers
2 pinches Dried Red Chili
2 teaspoon Water
3 drops Lemon Grass Citronella Raw
45 g of protein
34 g of fat
4 g of carbs
- Combine the fish sauce and water in a bowl. Heat up a wok on high heat. Once a drop of water flicked into the wok instantly evaporates, then add the oil and heat it up. Add the diced chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Pour out most of the oil and leave the chicken in the wok. Add in the sliced red onion and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Then add the garlic, lemongrass, chopped dried chilies and jalapeno, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine, stir and cook for 5 more minutes until it all caramelizes.
- Add the fish sauce mixture and scallions into the wok and cook for 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.
Keto Cheese Omelet
3 large Egg
* 1 1/2 ounce Butter
1 pinch(es) Black Pepper
1 pinch(es) Kosher Salt
* 3 1/2 ounce Cheddar Cheese
40 g of protein
80 g of fat
4 g of carbs
- Whisk the eggs until frothy and then mix in half of the shredded cheddar, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Melt the butter in a hot pan and pour in the eggs and let it cook for a few minutes.
- Continue to cook on lower heat until the eggs are almost cooked through. Add the remaining cheese and fold the omelet. Serve immediately.
Feel free to season your omelet with your favorite spices or a side of salsa.
0.6 ounce Sunflower Seeds
3.7 g of protein
8.9 g of fat
3.5 g of carbs
More on Keto….
What is the Keto Flu?
The keto flu is a collection of symptoms experienced by some people when they first start the keto diet. These symptoms, which can feel similar to the flu, are caused by the body adapting to a new diet consisting of very little carbohydrates. Reducing your carb intake forces your body to burn ketones for energy as opposed to glucose. Ketones are byproducts of fat breakdown and become the main fuel source when following a ketogenic diet. Normally, fat is reserved as a secondary fuel source to use when glucose is not available.
Switching to fat burning, and not sugar, for energy is called ketosis. It occurs during specific circumstances, including starvation and fasting. However, ketosis can also be achieved by adopting this very low-carb diet. In a ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are typically reduced to less than 50 grams per day. This drastic reduction can come as a shock to the body and may cause withdrawal-like symptoms, similar to those experienced when weaning off an addictive substance like caffeine.
Switching to a very low-carb diet is a major change, and your body may need time to adapt to this new way of eating. For some people, this transition period can be especially difficult.
Signs of the Keto Flu may start popping up within the first few days of cutting back on carbohydrates. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary from person to person. While some people may transition to a ketogenic diet without any side effects, others may experience Nausea, constipation, headache, weakness.
TIPS TO AVOID THE KETO FLU
Drinking enough water is necessary for optimal health and can also help reduce symptoms. A Keto Diet can cause you to rapidly shed water stores, increasing the risk of dehydration. This is because glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates, binds to water in the body. When dietary carbohydrates are reduced, glycogen levels plummet and water is excreted from the body. Staying hydrated can help with symptoms like fatigue and muscle cramping. Replacing fluids is especially important if you are experiencing Keto-Flu-associated diarrhea, which can cause additional fluid loss.
Replacing dietary electrolytes may help reduce keto-flu symptoms. When following a ketogenic diet, levels of insulin, an important hormone that helps the body absorb glucose from the bloodstream, decrease. When insulin levels decrease, the kidneys release excess sodium from the body.
What’s more, the keto diet restricts many foods that are high in potassium, including fruits, beans and starchy vegetables. So, getting adequate amounts of these important nutrients is an excellent way to power through the flu-like symptoms and adapt to the diet. Salting food to taste and including potassium-rich, keto-friendly foods like green leafy vegetables and avocados are an excellent way to ensure you are maintaining a healthy balance of electrolytes. These foods are also high in magnesium, which may help reduce muscle cramps, sleep issues and headaches.
All in all….
Yes, the short answer is yes. You can, in fact, build and/or maintain muscle while on a keto diet. Research studies regarding the keto-diet consistently show increased, if not maintained, levels of muscle mass in groups who undergo training while on the keto diet.
So as long as you’re getting adequate (healthy) fat intake as a source of energy, you should be able to successfully enter a state of ketosis while simultaneously putting on muscle.